Authors: Miriam Minger
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #Medieval, #General, #Historical Fiction, #Romance, #Historical Romance
He had heard enough gruesome stories about his father's
experiences while crusading in Egypt to know that decapitation was the Arab's
preferred method of execution. He imagined he could already feel the hard
paving stones as he was forced to his knees. Blindfolded, his hands tied so
tightly behind his back that they were numb, he could hear the executioner's
sharp intake of breath as the curved scimitar was swung back, then the clean,
whistling sound of steel cutting through the air
Cursing vehemently, Guy lifted his arm and was about to
dash the empty wine bottle against the opposite wall when the door suddenly
creaked open and two guards entered the cell. Although both men held their
swords at the ready, one also carried a lantern and the other a long, baked
What the hell was the guard doing with a hookah? He had
seen such devices in Acre's brothels, though he had never tried one. He had
lustily sampled the women, but smoking opium was one vice he had chosen to do
without, despite the glowing praise bestowed upon the seductive practice by
"For me?" Guy queried sarcastically, deriving
some pleasure from the guards' inability to understand him. "First food
and wine—good wine at that—and now another gift. Is your great and mighty
trying to ease his blasted
The nearest guard merely grunted in response and thrust
in his face.
Guy's first impulse was to knock the pipe aside, but a
wild and desperate idea suddenly struck him. He took the pipe and dangled it between
his raised knees, gesturing to the empty silver bowl set atop the airtight
vessel which was partially filled with water. "Bastards. I can't smoke it
if it's empty."
The same guard tossed him a square, lacquered box. Guy
opened it, revealing a substance that looked like black putty and smelled of
ambergris and musk. The other guard placed the lantern and some thin, wooden
sticks on the floor beside him and then quickly backed away. When Guy eagerly
began to pack the bowl with opium, the guards laughed scornfully and left the
Guy's hand shook as he lit the
with a flaming stick. He was overwhelmed by the daring escape plan taking shape
in his mind. Maybe . . . just maybe it would work.
As he put the glazed mouthpiece between his lips and drew
on the long smoking tube, the soft whoosh of bubbling water filled the cell. He
waited the barest moment until he tasted the pungent smoke, then he quickly
removed the mouthpiece and quietly exhaled what little he had taken into his
mouth. The smoke continued to curl from the tube and drift harmlessly into the
air. From where Guy sat against the wall, he knew the guards could not see that
he wasn't inhaling.
He glanced at the cell window and was grateful it was
open to the breeze. There was a chance he might be affected by the intoxicating
haze, but he hoped the effect would only be slight.
Guy purposely made a lot of noise as he fumbled with
the lacquered opium box and the lantern, packing and relighting the
several times. Finally the cell became so clouded
with white smoke that the guards swore and slammed the peephole shut.
Guy smiled grimly at their coarse, knowing laughter and
set the pipe aside, yet
enough so that he could
easily grab the long clay neck. It was obvious he had convinced them he would
be no more trouble tonight. Blessed fools. Soon it would be dark outside. When
the guards came in again to check on him, which they no doubt would if he
remained very, very quiet, he would make his move . . .
"You are home early," Eve said, smoothing an
errant tendril loosed from Leila's braid as she sat on the marble couch beside
her. "You told me this morning you had so many patients to see at the
hospital that you didn't expect to return until long after dark. Here it is
"Father sent me home," Leila replied moodily.
She continued to stare at the little stream rumbling not far from her sandaled
feet. "He was displeased with me."
"That is, indeed, a rare occurrence for a favored
daughter. What could you have possibly done to displease him?"
Leila shrugged. "I'd rather not talk about it,
Indeed she did not, Leila thought as Eve sighed softly.
How could she explain something that she didn't understand herself? She would
never have guessed the episode with the crusader would so affect her. She had
seen his face in every patient she encountered, causing her hands to tremble
whenever she performed even the simplest treatment.
Eve's voice nudged her back from her unsettling
reverie. "Surely it was not that serious—"
"No, though my patients might disagree. I was
clumsy, 'tis all, but it's hardly worth discussing. Father will have enough to
say to me when he comes home."
"As you wish." Silence settled between them
for a while,
Eve patted her hand. "How is
the crusader faring today? Has any word come about his ransom?"
Leila glanced at her mother in surprise. It was the
first time Eve had mentioned the crusader since the night on the roof terrace.
How uncanny that she should think of him now. Could Eve read her mind? "Kismet
has not favored him, Mother. There will be no ransom paid for his release. "
Eve's eyes grew dark with disbelief. "What do you
"The English prince, Lord Edward, sailed from Acre
three days ago. It seems he has left his crusader knight to die. "
"No, this cannot be," Eve whispered,
horrified. "I knew Edward as a child. He was a good boy and of a just
temperament, like his father, King Henry. If Edward was aware that one of his
knights languished in prison, surely he would never desert him."
Stunned by what her mother had just shared with her,
Leila did not reply. Eve had never told her that she knew Lord Edward and the
king of England.
"But what of the letter of ransom, Leila? The
messenger left Damascus well over a week ago. Surely Edward would have received
"The messenger was killed," Leila said, and
quickly explained that morning's unsettling events at the prison. Eve listened
in silence until Leila finished, her face deathly white. "Edward never
received that letter of ransom. I am certain of it," she said softly,
staring unseeing at the gurgling stream. "Perhaps he believes the crusader
and his companions are still in Anatolia or on their way back to Acre. He
cannot know the ill fortune that he has befallen—"
"Mother," Leila interrupted gently, "it
no longer matters what Lord Edward knows or doesn't know. He has sailed home to
England without his knight. Lord de
sealed. He will be executed in the morning."
Eve's gaze grew wide as she searched Leila's face. "Did
you say de
"Yes." Leila suddenly realized she had never
told her mother the crusader's name, and judging from Eve's startled
expression, neither had her father. "Guy de
very well-known family in England, at least they were when William and I . . ."
Eve's voice trailed off and she sighed, her private thoughts clearly miles
"Mother . . ."
Eve started as if she had forgotten they were sitting
together on the couch. "Yes . . . the de
were great and loyal servants of the king. Our nearest neighbors in Wales were
of that family. They had a son named Guy, about the same age as my Roger. The
boys were good friends."
Leila drew in her breath, for she had rarely heard her
mother mention the son born to her when she was a child-bride of fifteen.
Leila could recall asking Eve once as a little girl how
she could leave her young son behind in England. Her mother had answered that
it had been her duty and desire to journey with her husband to the Holy Land
and that it had been best to leave Roger with a family friend. Then she had
changed the subject. Leila could count on one hand the times she had heard Eve
say her brother's name since then.
"How old is this crusader?" Eve asked
urgently, clutching Leila's arm.
"I don't know. Twenty-seven, eight. Maybe thirty."
"Roger would be twenty-eight now, if he still
lives," Eve said, growing more agitated. "Yes, this prisoner could be
my son's boyhood friend."
Her mother rose so suddenly, pacing in front of the
couch, that Leila became alarmed. "Mother . . . what is wrong?"
Eve didn't seem to hear her. "I must intercede for
him," she said distractedly, heading toward her apartments. "I must
Leila jumped to her feet and hurried after her, her
heart racing. What had come over her mother? Leila had never seen her like this
"Help the crusader? Mother, you can't be serious.
Who will listen to you? You've told me many times how deeply
the hatred between the Christian crusaders and our people—"
"Our people?" Eve blurted, rounding on Leila.
"You do not even know your own people! The crusader is one of your own
, your own faith, and you have shown no more compassion
for his plight than if he were your sworn enemy. All you have cared about was
ransom, not the precious
life you saved! And now that there will be no ransom, you care naught about the
terrible fate Lord de
"I do care!" Leila blurted before she even
realized what she was saying, her shrill voice an echo in the darkening
courtyard. She shrugged, trying to cover up what she had just revealed. "He
. . . he may be a barbarian, but he is not an animal to be led to the
Eve sighed heavily. "Ah, my dearest daughter,
forgive me. I cannot blame you for what your eyes will not see and what your
heart cannot feel. This is the only world you have ever known." She shook
her head sadly. "No, it is my fault. I have shared so little with you
about your homeland, your true people. There never seemed to be any point to it
. . ."
Perplexed by Eve's last words, Leila reached out for
her hand, but her mother turned away and walked to the archway, where she
stopped and looked back to where Leila was standing.
"I will leave within the hour. If you see your
father before I return, tell him I have gone to Governor
palace . .
and tell him why. I think he will
As Eve disappeared into her apartments to change into
her finest garments, Leila could not help thinking that her mother's quest,
although noble, was hopelessly futile.
, Supreme Lord
of all the Arab Empire, was in Damascus, having arrived earlier that afternoon
from Cairo. If Eve was fortunate enough to receive an audience with Governor
, she would no doubt also encounter the sultan, and
then her plea would surely fall on deaf ears. Sultan
had sworn publicly that he would not rest until every crusader was put to the
sword or driven from the land. Now that there would be no ransom, nothing would
save Guy de
Guy lay very still upon the floor when he heard the
cell door scrape open, a mere half hour since he had last lit the
. He reminded himself to breathe quietly and
evenly, as if asleep, which he certainly would have been if he had actually
smoked the amount of opium the guards had left him.
He listened carefully, discerning three different
footfalls moving toward him. There were three guards in the cell instead of
two, upping the odds against him, yet he knew his lust for vengeance would see
him through. The friends he had lost in the Lebanese mountains would soon
Guy heard chuckling and lowered voices speaking
directly above him, and knew the guards were looking down at him. Someone
lightly kicked his leg, but he did not move, not even when the kick came harder
the second time. Someone else slapped his face, and his head lolled
convincingly to the side.
Thinking he was out cold, the guards laughed loudly now
and began to talk among themselves, their conversation boastful and relaxed. It
was his cue.
Guy seized the
to him and swung with all his might, hitting one guard's knees as he jumped to
his feet. The man buckled and Guy swung again, shattering the pipe on the
stricken guard's head. The man fell heavily to the floor.
The two other guards came at him with their bare hands,
for he had attacked so swiftly that they had not had time to draw their swords.
Towering over them both, Guy grabbed the nearest guard by the throat and threw
him against the wall. The man slumped senseless to the floor.
Unnerved by the sight of his fallen companions, the
last guard uttered a short, guttural cry and made a break for the door, but he
was not fast enough. Guy caught him by his belt and collar and hoisted him in
the air, using the flailing man as a battering ram against the window's iron
bars. Blood and brains spattered upon the ledge, and the guard crumpled into a
lifeless heap below the window.
Breathing hard and fast, Guy winced at the sharp pain
in his shoulder as he bent and picked up a curved scimitar. The weapon was
lighter than the swords he usually wielded, but just as deadly. He took care to
slit the throats of the two other guards, a ruthless but necessary precaution,
he rushed to the door, his battle-honed instincts
guiding his every move.